A couple of items caught my attention this week:
Once-dominant women’s apparel company Liz Claiborne Inc. announced Wednesday that it’s changing its corporate name to Fifth & Pacific Cos. Inc. (stock symbol FNP). The 36-year-old brand had been named for its founder, the innovative fashion designer Liz Claiborne (1929-2007), who once told Women’s Wear Daily that her goal had been “to dress busy and active women like myself, women who dress in a rush and who weren’t perfect.” The company was hugely successful throughout the 1970s and 1980s but floundered in recent years; even a guest designing stint by Isaac Mizrahi failed to revive customer interest. The only place you’ll find the Liz Claiborne label now is in J.C. Penney stores: Penney bought the company in 2009.
The new name, according to CEO William L. McComb, is intended to evoke New York (Fifth Avenue, one of the most prestigious shopping streets in the world) and Los Angeles (Pacific … Ocean? On the other side of which lie the sweatshops of China?). “We wanted a name that somehow captured the intrinsically American element of what we do, even though these are global brands,” McComb told WWD. “We talked about the lurking drama of New York and Los Angeles really being a defining element of what we are as a company.”
Apparently no one at Claiborne/FNP recalled the lurking drama of a similarly named retail venture, Gap Inc.’s Forth & Towne (2005-2007), which had a devoted customer base of women over 35 who were infuriated when Gap pulled the plug. (See this blog post and this one.) “Forth & Towne” was supposed to communicate “fourth brand” (I have no idea why it was spelled “Forth”) and, um, something to do with cities and towns. (And no, despite what you may have heard or imagined, Forth & Towne’s demise had nothing to do with initials. No one who shopped there ever called the stores F.A.T.)
Forth & Towne may be gone, but the X & Y naming trend shows no sign of waning: witness Judith & Charles, Rock & Republic, Rag & Bone, and many other clones. I collected a long list of them in a May 2010 post.
For fashion-nostalgists, here’s an obituary of Liz Claiborne from The Economist.
(Hat tip: MJF.)
After the failure of Forth & Towne, Gap Inc. decided to grow by acquisition. The retailer’s newest brand—bought for $150 million in 2008—is Athleta, which makes activewear for women. Athleta is now getting its first nationwide brand campaign—and its first tagline, “Power to the She.” That is not a typo.
The campaign—which features a lot of young, lithe white women doing fit and flexible things—was created by Peterson Milla Hooks of Minneapolis and was budgeted for only four months, which may explain why the ad copy reads as though it were copied and pasted, without benefit of editing, from a focus-group transcript.
Imperative, imperative, imperative … and all of a sudden a declarative sentence with a dumb pun (“We kick asphalt”). And that tagline. Good grief. I can tolerate a lot of grammar-bending in advertising, but this makes zero sense to me. Why is “she” capitalized? Why does “she” take a definite article? Are we meant to think “power to the people” or “hell to the no”?
Does “the She” stand alone?
No, I suppose not.
Alas, poor Gap. It’s been just over a year since the notorious logo redesign and subsequent Gap-lash. Now this. Get me an Advil. Get me a new agency. Get me rewrite!